Farmers are obsessed with the weather, as you can see from my monthly musings it often gets a mention. 2022 seems to have been a roller coaster with everything from drought to full on torrential rain, thunder and wind. That was some storm which crashed down on us on Sunday 23rd October. One minute all was calm, then the sky lit up with lightening, the rain lashed down and the wind brought down branches and in some cases whole trees. We ended up with 45mm of rain over that weekend. I breathed a sigh of relief that we had completed our autumn campaign of establishing the winter cereals. 400 ha (1000 acres) of wheat and barley were planted into ideal seedbeds in 11 days. We even had a Sunday off. Much like harvest, there were no stoppages for wet weather or breakdowns. It always amazes me how complex machinery, that is well maintained, nearly always breaks down when you are under pressure to get things done.
It seems our governing party, the conservatives, have also been breaking records as well as trashing the economy. Three prime ministers in the time it has taken us to go from harvest to establishing next year’s crop is not a record to be proud of. It is even more of a challenge to run a profitable business and keep everyone fed when they trash the economy. Hopefully prime minister number 3 will make a better fist of it. Which brings me to the rising cost of living and in particular that of food prices. Inflation in the general economy has reached 10%, however food has risen by 14.3%. So, what are the causes and how much can be laid at the door of the food chain, which we as farmers are part of? A sobering thought before we start, the average inflation figure for farm inputs is 34%. Fertiliser, for example, has increased by a massive 134%. These costs will get passed on in part to consumers. Whilst we have seen rises in our payments for what we have produced this year, harvest 2023 is going to be a real challenge. Some farmers and growers are already seriously thinking about not growing certain crops. Others will almost certainly go out of business or try to stay afloat by doing other things with their land. We still need to eat and part of our rising food costs are down to how much we are currently importing. Just look at what has happened to the value of the pound. We now get a lot less for our money when spent on imports than we did a year ago. For the countries we import from, there are more lucrative markets out there, so why would they want to supply the UK, particularly now our credit rating has fallen? Linked to this is a world supply problem of grain and oilseeds exasperated by the war in Ukraine and unfavourable weather on a global scale. The cost of shipping and transport both at home and around the world has escalated, which all adds to the cost of food. Then there is the increase in labour costs as wages try to keep pace with inflation in an economy that struggles to fill job vacancies. Horticulture and fruit growers have always relied on seasonal workers. Since leaving the EU and changes in government immigration policy this supply of workers has fallen well below what is needed. Vegetables, fruit and salad crops left to rot in the field because they can’t be picked is a truly shameful situation, especially while we have increasing numbers relying on food banks.
Farmers and their representatives have warned government that they are sleep walking into a disaster over our lack of food security. Global events such as the covid pandemic, the war in Ukraine and climate change mean it is even more important now. We need a food chain that is more resilient to these global influences. Consideration should be given as to how we can protect our environment both here and abroad whilst at the same time providing safe, nutritious food. We don’t have a magic pill that we can take to keep our bodies functioning so we still need to be fed. You need farmers and growers, we are part of the solution not the problem.